Vongphachanh "Khom" Temmelath lives in Vientiane, Laos. When she was in college, like other girls, Khom grew her hair long, wore fashionable clothes, and was an active member in campus social events. But Khom was no ordinary girl. She was born a man.

Because of her identity, school authorities challenged Khom repeatedly. Eventually, the constant pressure from authorities and discrimination from students led her to drop out of school. Afterwards, she found out that it was nearly impossible to find a job. "Companies look at your picture, your long hair, and when they see that you are born male, they toss your CV out." Unemployed, she felt alone and adrift. Khom's health was also at risk. HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men in Laos, including transgendered men, was 5.6 percent. Fearing discrimination, she rarely saw a doctor and had never been tested for HIV or STIs.

Under the CAP-3D program funded by USAID, PSI/Laos operates three New Friends Drop-In Centers in the country's largest urban areas, providing a range of HIV and STI prevention education and services for an estimated 6,000 transgendered people and their partners. After being isolated for so much of her life, Khom found a sense of community through PSI. She now works as a peer educator, mentoring youth who visit the drop-in center. She gives them the emotional support they need to face discrimination at home and school. "Not even in my dreams did I imagine I would be able to do this kind of work," says Khom. "I can protect myself and protect others."

Source:  Health Matters Newsletter RDMA/Office of Public Health